Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sooty's Smudge

Staring at Anna Bay Sooty's pouch, I feel a bit like a papparazzi photographer waiting for the latest celebrity to emerge outside of the London restaurant or nightclub du jour...not knowing whether I would be waiting a minute or an hour...
It's most of the usual suspects on the Thursday shift: Amanda, Jarred, Brooke; although Trish and Paul couldn't make it in.

I'm given a choice between yard 10 or two of the yards nearest to ICU. It's no contest really: one of the two yards contains Anna Bay Sooty, and Anna Bay Sooty contains a precious little joey called Smudge. At least, that's what we call him/her as in my house; you know, like a smudge of soot.

My other koala is Livingstone Clover, a big boy who spends most of his time high in the tree in yard 4. He's got a limp on him like Innes Wonga used to, but he's surprisingly agile, even for a big boy. It's easy doing his yard since he's up on yonder branch.

It's all coming back to me, this koalawrangling stuff. Chuck the recycled pot, divide up yesterday's leaf and trim it back. I'm reminded of an ikebana presentation I saw in Kyoto. A kimono-clad Japanese lady kneeled on stage carefully examining different branches of fern which she then assembled in a pot. Occasionally, she'd pause and take up a pair of clippers to trim a stem before placing it precisely in the vase. It was such a serene, careful presentation, yet ridiculously all I could think about was how similar it was, in a paraodic sort of way, to cutting koala leaf. The process was just the same, minus loud bird call, the eucalyptus aroma, the splash of hose water. Oh, and we used hedge clippers as long as your arm.

Cheyne sticks her head over the fence to ask if I'll prepare yard 2 for Barton Glen, a koala transferring from ICU. So I set about sorting out the pots and filling the water bowl. When I'm done, Cheyne reappears looking for Amanda who's not in the vicinity, so she asks me those magic words: "want some handling practice?"


I can't really go around calling myself the koalawrangler when the most of I've wrangled lately is our kitten. (Although, kitten-wrangling, like cat-herding with which it is closely related, is not an activity for the faint of heart).

So I roll up my sleeves literally and figuratively and head into ICU. Cheyne hands me a bag and points me in the direction of Barton Glen's unit. I'm horizontally challenged so she drags up a stool for me to stand on. But that's where her assistance ends. I'm doing this on my own. I tell her she's terribly mean, but of course I know that this is as it should be: how else am I going to get good at koalawrangling if I always look to a more experienced wrangler to take over? What good would I be if called upon in a rescue sitation?

But I haven't bagged a koala for a while so Cheyne does give me a tip upfront. "Just drop the bag over him like he's a bell." I do this and then Barton reacts as though in slow motion, trying to shift out from under the bag, but not at any kind of great speed. I go for his wrists under the bag and Cheyne says, no, it's better to try to topple him into the bag rather than use the bag as a means of picking him up.

It all happens quite fast after that and suddenly Barton's in the bag and I'm gripping it securely around the neck (the bag, that is, not the koala!). I carry him triumphantly into ICU for the next round: tagging and chipping. I hold the bag open just enough to allow his head to poke out, but ensure that he can't move while Cheyne tags his ear. Next, it's the patch at the back of his neck and down his back that is left uncovered so that the microchip can be inserted.

I reclose the bag and carry Barton Glen out to his interim home, yard 2. I put the bag down gently and ease it open to let him crawl out. He looks around, blinking, as they all do when we do the hey-presto! unit/yard swap. But he regains his composure and hightails it up onto the gunyah and tucks into the leaf I've prepared for him. There's a group of visitors who are delighted by his appearance and crowd around to watch him acclimatising to his new environs.

But Glen's is nothing like the crowd generated by our littlest resident, Smudge [not his/her real name!], Anna Bay Sooty's little joey. After weeks of only seeing nothing more than Anna Bay Sooty's burgeoning pouch or, on occasion, a tantalising paw, we're now being treated to the appearance of the joey itself. It's still too little to completely leave the pouch (or perhaps the weather's just too darn cold!), but lately we've been treated to the exquisite sight of Smudge's little face cradled in Anna Bay Sooty's arms (and scary claws!). I've also seen Smudge do a complete about-face, wiggling its tiny white fist-sized bottom in the air as it's tried to find a more comfortable position. Sometimes we would stand for 30 minutes at a time in Anna Bay Sooty's yard staring at the sleeping mother, willing the baby to come out for us to ogle it.

Staring at Anna Bay Sooty's pouch, I feel a bit like a papparazzi photographer waiting for the latest celebrity to emerge outside of the London restaurant or nightclub du jour...not knowing whether I'll be waiting a minute or an hour... Then, as we all stood there, vollies and visitors alike, John came in to spray the leaf and lo and behold, Smudge emerges in all its glory and sits looking up at us for what seems like ages. It's a precious moment, made all the more special by the news that they will soon be leaving us to return to their home down south in Anna Bay.

There are more photos of "Smudge" here:

Click here to view more of today's koala hospital snaps.